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The Dilly: A Secret History of Piccadilly Rent Boys


The Sohemian Society presents…
Jeremy Reed
at The Wheatsheaf, 25 Rathbone Place, North Soho, W1
Wednesday March 18th, 7.30pm

The Dilly is the first comprehensive examination of male prostitution at London’s Piccadilly Circus from the nineteenth century to the present day. On the fringes of Soho, Piccadilly has long been London’s principal location for the illicit sale of sex, and Jeremy Reed explores the history of rent boys from Oscar Wilde’s notorious attraction to the place to the painter Francis Bacon’s predilection for rough trade. The book includes tales of Soho’s clandestine gay clubs from the days when homosexuality was illegal, the punters inexorably drawn to the area, the development of the secret slang known as Polari or Palare, as well as the Dilly’s influence on pop stars from the Rolling Stones to Morrissey. The author examines the careers of a number of former male prostitutes who worked the infamous ‘Meat Rack’ and investigates what drew them to risk their lives. His study includes a chapter recording his friendship with Francis Bacon and concludes with an account of the demise of the Dilly trade, when male escorts booked online supplanted the boys hanging out on the neon-lit railings.

This is an exhilarating re-creation of the occupation of London’s tourist centre by lawless Dilly boys and a pioneering piece of countercultural history brought vividly to life through the author’s personal engagement – he himself worked as a rent boy in the early 1970s – as well as his strong sense of place, colourful imagery and poetic flair.

First posted: Saturday, March 14th, 2015.

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